Being comfortable about being uncomfortable

One of the reasons that many people find it difficult to change their behaviour is that they are not comfortable with being uncomfortable. Take this example…

I was coaching a very senior leader (let’s call him Neville) on his communication style. Neville could be very back and white in his views and also found group communication a challenge. He was a “chalk and talk” presenter, with numerous slides filled with small font and convoluted diagrams and he used a lectern as a barrier between himself and the audience.

The organisation was going through considerable change, and he wanted to be able to connect with his people and sell his vision for the change. Neville was self-aware enough to have accepted feedback on his style and was keen to change.

We spent several sessions in his office working on techniques for engaging his audience. He practiced developing open ended questions to draw out people’s experience and knowledge to create dialogue. We worked on open body language, and advocacy and enquiry techniques. Finally, he was ready to go.

I sat at the back of the room to observe and provide feedback after the forum. Around 150 people were present, ready to hear the vision for change. Neville stood up at the front of the room, and I saw him take a last read of his carefully prepared prompt notes before he stepped away from behind the podium. He took a deep breath…then walked back behind the podium and switched on his slides. Neville reverted to the style he was most comfortable with.

After the session I went to see him and I asked what happened. He was defensive and told me “At the last minute I realised that everything YOU taught me just wasn’t going to work”!

I reiterated that doing something differently for the first time is uncomfortable and feels wrong, but that it becomes more natural with time, but Neville had made his mind up. No change for him!

One of the challenging things about changing behaviour is that new behaviours feel uncomfortable. Animals are hard wired to avoid discomfort, so it is so very easy for us to use it as an excuse.

Remember learning to drive a car? If you were anything like me, the first few times were so difficult it would have been easy to give up. I remember being in tears after stalling the car repeatedly at traffic lights, with cars behind me honking impatiently. My dad told me “It’s going to be hard work. Driving is difficult, but you will get better”. I listened to my dad, and he was right. Learning lots of things are difficult, but I get better at them with practice.

To achieve growth and learning, we need to learn to embrace being uncomfortable. If you are not uncomfortable, stretched, challenged, you are not truly learning.

Step out of your comfort zone and get uncomfortable – it’s not easy, but it is rewarding.

Are you comfortable with being uncomfortable?

Contact Ros for leadership development, coaching and facilitation, or if you have questions about the topics – or visit Shaping Change at

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